When I brought children into this world, I promised myself, as a parent that I would be their biggest champion in life.
I vowed to be the shoulder to cry, the hand to feed, the kisser of boo-boos, the teller of stories, and the one they could rely on. Always. No matter what.
When my son was only 4 he revealed to me that he is trans. He confided in me that he was living life as a girl, because that’s what he was told he was, but inside…. inside he was someone else. He felt different, he felt wrong. Like his brain and his body didn’t match up but he couldn’t put his finger on it, exactly. At least not until he started communicating all of this to me and we sought help, found professionals and had more and more conversations. It became abundantly clear to me rather fast that my (then) daughter was, in actuality, my trans son.
And he needed my acceptance and support more than anything else.
Learning this “secret” of his didn’t change my role as a parent or an advocate, if anything it magnified it exponentially because now I was the one holding his hand while he navigated where to go from here. Helping him decide on big decisions like hair cuts, a name, pronouns, and who and how to tell his secret to.
Being young, he was off and running once he expressed his true self to me and understood that my love for him didn’t change. He was telling people, confident, and open.
I, on the other hand, was scared.
I was worried about other’s reactions, how I was going to explain this and how I would defend him, because I knew it was inevitable that I would be doing more defending than anything.
I was worried about what kind of parent I was going to look like, despite knowing that the kind of parent I was is exactly who I wanted to be all along.
As things progressed in their natural way for him, I found it harder and harder to find support for myself. I turned to complete strangers to share openly with and they welcomed me with open arms. They became my solace, a group of like-minded parents with similar kids who all just wanted the same thing, to love, support, accept their kids and shield them as much as humanly possible from the terrors of the world.
It was great to have this network to turn to, but it was also very lonely and isolating that the only way I found “my people” was in a cyber world. A world of supporters that didn’t exist in real life.
In real life, things were much different.
I can count on one hand how many close family and friends I can turn to and OPENLY discuss my son. Using the correct language and pronouns, using his chosen name, and talking as if life is absolutely normal, as it should be.
And then… there is the rest of my “support”. My family that I love more than anything in the world, but with whom I have to tread carefully. I have to consider the words I use very carefully.
I have three children. And I can speak freely about two of them. But one of them, the one that happens to be trans, I have to be very cautious and tread carefully with my words, with my expressions, with my stories. I can’t over share or I offend. I can’t leave him out or it’s obvious. If I address the issue head on it becomes an argument. More defending. More explaining. And very little understanding. Even less acceptance.
It’s become the very large elephant in the room. And it’s an awkward room to live in.
It’s very lonely living as an ally to your trans child. Sometimes you feel like you’re speaking to a brick wall, you’re loaded with an arsenal of research and statistics, knowledge and education and you’re ready, willing, and able to share it with whoever will listen because all you want is for your child to be understood. To be accepted and to be treated and SEEN equally among your others, as the person he is, the person he presents as to everyone else in this world.
You want to be able to go to family functions and not get the side-eye or have people bombard you with their opinions on your life, your child, your decisions because as outsiders, they seem to have all of the answers to your very intimate and personal dilemmas.
Being an ally to a young trans child means being the one who has to have the tough conversations. It also means sometimes being the one who has to decide whether or not to sever relationships.
When you’re your child’s ally, his PARENT, you just want people to start coming around to your side of the fence so you can stop toeing the line and start living life to its fullest, like you’re urging your children to do every moment of every day.
Like you promised yourself you would, until it meant you might lose family if you weren’t careful. So you toe. You tread lightly. And you hope that one day they will come around so you can have your relationships back, your life back, and your family back. In a new, better, more authentic way and without censors and boundaries that went up necessarily but not permanently. At least you hope not.
As an ally, you want to be understood, but you also want people to comprehend WHY you are taking the actions and making the tough decisions you are because of the importance to YOU that your child receives a message of unconditional love. Of immense support. Of nothing other than a message from the champion you promised yourself you would be to your children before you knew what kind of champion or advocate they were going to need.
As an ally of a trans kid, and a member of a family you now feel like you’re on the outer skirts of, you get lonely and you wonder if things will ever get better, but you hear stories from your “friends” in your cyber space and you see it IS possible. They’ve done it. And you can too. You will, eventually. At least that’s what you tell yourself.
Until then, you thrive off of watching your child flourish and grow into their true self and seeing them become more and more the person they were meant to be helps the sun burst through some of the gloomiest of days.
Being an ally means being the one I always wanted to be for my child. The one they could rely on and depend on without question. The person that would be their rock and walk down any rough path right beside them.
Being an ally to my son means the world to me. I just sometimes wish others would see how much love, compassion, and understanding it takes not to deal with him…. he’s easy. But to deal (or not deal) with everyone else.
If this piece resonated with you here are a few others I’ve written about my experiences with parenting a young trans child. Good luck to you, moms and dads. You’re doing great <3
Until it happened to me, I thought I was one of the lucky ones. Miscarriage rate goes down if you’ve already had a healthy pregnancy, right? And what are the odds that with such a BRIGHT pink line, the crazy nausea, the boobs that feel like they’ve been used as punching bags, and the overwhelming emotions that my baby isn’t strong and perfect?
I have had miscarriage happen at different stages of pregnancies. And every time, it hurts just the same. But I find myself minimizing my pain and loss because I never felt my babies kick. I never even heard a heartbeat.
And so I can’t possibly compare my experience to the strong women out there who have seen their babies in their full form on an ultrasound, who have watched the flickering black and white heartbeat and heard the accompanied galloping thumbs through the speakers. I can’t compare my loss to someone who has felt the flutters of a baby kicking, the growing baby that they saw swelling their bellies, and their hearts.
I’m not sure it’s fair to compare my pain that was only in the early stages, a missed period to a few short days after starting to spot. Had I not taken that test, I probably wouldn’t have even known. And that really doesn’t compare to someone who has felt the intense cravings for ice cream and pickles that come along with actual pregnancy.
I feel it wouldn’t be fair to measure my grief of going in to an appointment, to lay on the white sheet, sans pants, to feel the cold goo and the anticipation, followed by the letdown that something was amiss. There isn’t, in fact, any heartbeat to see.
And maybe…. come back in a few weeks. You might get lucky.
Except someone else was “lucky” They heard that heartbeat. Saw the flicker! That’s supposed to mean you can breathe easy now. You can TELL family and friends. You’re so much closer to a healthy baby than I ever was, I can’t measure my grief to that. It’s not the same.
I can’t pretend I know what it’s like to tell a child who knows better about their future sibling and then later have to explain to my innocent child that life is not guaranteed. The brother or sister they were promised was already too much for this world, and went on to another, without saying hello on her way.
Even though I have fantasized what kind of brother my child would be. Pretended I could picture what the two of them would look like next to each other for their first photo shoot. Wondered if they would get along famously, or not. How their first introduction would go, if my son would be a good helper, if my new baby would be a terrible sleeper like my last, or if my delivery would be as easy, or worse.
I start thinking about my versions of loss and how many other, more devastating tragedies there are in this world when it comes to miscarriage and infant loss and I start to think I didn’t have the traumatic experiences that I’ve heard and seen others have and so I can’t really feel as deeply the pain as they do.
Infant loss, miscarriage, in any form is a crushing event. Whether you only just found out or you grew to love the baby you had already begun to bond with. Whether you had only seen a blip on the screen or you had the opportunity to meet your little angel before they found their place somewhere else, it hurts.
And you don’t forget.
As a mom I remember many milestones. As a mom who has experienced loss, I can tell you where I was when it started, what I thought, and where I was when I came to the realization that this baby I had wanted so bad (or maybe hadn’t been sure I wanted yet, because it was such a surprise but I knew I wanted it NOW) was not going to make it into the world. It wasn’t going to make it to my first doctor’s appointment. Or my second.
I’ve spent weeks agonizing, waiting (impatiently) for my final chance to walk into the doctor and show them they were WRONG. That my baby DOES have a heartbeat and it’s perfect and strong. Only to get there and be heartbroken for the second time, even though this time, I knew. I knew all along. But that didn’t stop me from praying for a miracle.
I’m not sure if I can really compare my loss to that of another farther down the road.
I know that my pain was so deep. So raw. That had I been farther along in my pregnancies I’m not sure I would have made it through that kind of loss. Those women are the strongest women I know. My loss… it doesn’t compare.
And yet, it binds us together as a group of women who know a very unique and kinship kind of pain. Who understand what it’s like to love someone you’ve never met with every ounce of your being and to pray with every ounce of energy in your bones that you will get to meet that person. Hold them, kiss them, take them home. Spend one more day. One more year.
Loss is loss. Whether it’s mine or it’s yours, it’s our battle wound to carry. So, as I carry mine I’ll try not to minimize it if you promise not to hide yours.
Another Mom Who Wonders Every Day About The Child That Could Have Been
I get so frustrated as a parent sometimes, as many do. I work hard, sleep very little, feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained much of the time.
And sometimes feel like I’m literally busting my ass to make ends meet to turn around and get snapped at by a tiny human who appears ungrateful, demanding, and entitled in the wake of my roller coaster day to day life.
Being a divorced parent is hard. Being a divorced parent with no co-parent is even harder.
So while I sit here and throw myself a pity party for spending my days making up for the absent parent in my kids’ lives, I really need to take a step back and remember… my kids are going through some serious shit.
I might be the “single” parent in this parenting duo, but they have went from a family with two parents, with a semi-normal home life, to a family with one parent completely removed. Living in the house they grew up in but with a new man, who they don’t trust yet, don’t know as a dad, don’t feel the same love or connection with.
While I’m struggling to navigate life with new dynamics and a new partner they are trying to mourn a dad that is still alive, but they don’t get to see. The parent that used to be the “fun dad” who over exaggerated every event, every holiday, every big moment in their lives and now forgets to call on their birthday.
I feel worn down and complain about money, lack of support, and missing days of work to stay home with sick kids because I am their sole parent. But I forget that while I’m cuddling their feverish body and stressing about being stuck home and not at work that they are remembering what it was like to cuddle their other parent. Or maybe, they are stressing too because enough time has passed and they might not be able to remember it as well as before.
I have to remember that even though I got to experience my son’s amazing belt promotion, my daughter’s first gymnastics team, my older son’s baseball and academic achievements and cheer them all on and beam with pride, they were likely (if even for just a moment) yearning for the person missing. The one who should also be there to congratulate their big accomplishments.
I have to remember that if my kid seems like he doesn’t like any of the gifts he got for his birthday, even if it’s EXACTLY what he asked for, it’s not me. Or the gifts. It’s because the one true gift he wanted isn’t something that can be bought at all.
He told me his one wish this year. That his dad would come back and be the dad he was years ago before his demons took over. And my only saving grace is that someone reminded him days later that if you share your wish, it won’t come true.
My kid may never tell me his wishes again.
While I’m simultaneously making sure that my kids get to continue their sports, have birthday parties, the tooth fairy shows up, Santa is good to them, and everything is *somewhat* normal and like it used to be, they are wondering what magical being can step in and “fix” this.
When I am exhausted and overwhelmed at bedtime and fighting back tears because my kids have heard two songs, been read three books, and had multiple bathroom breaks, there are nights I bet they’re also wishing their mom wasn’t the one ALWAYS putting them to bed.
There is likely a place of common ground in the root of most of our mutual frustration.
My kids have it pretty rough for kids that on the outside appear happy, carefree, friendly, and smart. The guise they wear sometimes fades and the sadness pours out, but sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time, it doesn’t. At least not in obvious ways.
On those days I forget that they are battling with feelings and thoughts and fears and worries that *most* kids their age don’t experience at such a young age. Or ever. I have to remember that my kids, even if they seem fine, might be really struggling on the inside.
I have to keep in mind that they aren’t aware of their feelings yet and aren’t mature enough to express them and so they manifest in ways that look like ungratefulness, attitude, or anger towards me.
I have to be vigilant that even if my kids are smiling, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fleeting thought about the thing they all miss most. The PERSON.
I also have to remember that while I’m over here feeling sorry for myself in my position as mom AND dad, that they most likely want a break from me as much as I do from them sometimes, but that break is nowhere in either of our immediate futures. I just have to keep reminding myself…. my kids are going through some serious shit right now.
If this article connects with you here are some others about my relationship struggles:
Halloween. It’s the parent’s ultimate compensation event. Not only do you get to send your kids out in ridiculous garbs, but they’re off begging other people for shit they don’t need for a change. Triumphantly working their little tails off (in a way that any other day would be considered child labor) collecting coveted chocolate covered and fruit flavored escapes that you get to enjoy for months to come. Until the guilt has finally set in and the reality that “bikini season” is once again around the corner and you’ve spent the winter packing it on like snowman.
But it’s “fall y’all”. The season of not giving a f*ck and the perpetual mindset of “this is a problem for spring me”. We are seemingly decades away from the time of year where you’ll start worrying about self-inflicted holiday coping weight, again.
So here we go. If we are going to rage eat our kids candy in the bathroom over our own sobs while they bang on the door begging us to refill the sippy cup we’ve only just handed them on our stumble through the lego minefield on the way in here, shouldn’t we at least do it right?
Have no fear. I’ve compiled a complete list of essentials, so you can be sure that your caloric sweet treat is the ideal choosing for the dumpster-fire parenting situation that life has handed you today.
Reese’s. A go-to for any occasion as it pertains to raising hell-bound heathens. Whether in the shape of a smooshed cupcake or a pumpkin, they are timeless. From a tiny bit of toothpaste in the bathroom sink to sharpie on your brand new leather couch, these are sure to make the blinding rage fade away, if even for a few moments. Stuff the whole damn thing in your mouth because they are big enough to satisfy in one bite so you don’t have to share with your tiny terrorists. But small enough that you (probably) won’t choke.
Snickers. Anything with crunch is perfect for when you’re white-knuckling it through dinner trying to make it to the final stretch of the evening so you can lay down and let your mind race about all things you have no control over. These come in “fun-size” which is really just code for “calm down on the candy, mmmk?” But HEY, you can take this as an opportunity to remind yourself that is IS in fact fun to devour something your kid worked hard for. Karma.
Tootsie Rolls. Save these as a passive aggressive way to get back at your kids on days they have pissed you off just enough, but not entirely to the point of making you lose your ever-loving mind. Nobody likes these little turd shaped nuggets. I use these for when my kids are begging me for candy and just won’t STFU about it already, but they really don’t deserve it after their mini-episodes of insubordination throughout the day. So here you go, little Satan spawn. Chow down. (muahahaha).
Skittles. If you like fruity , like I do, these are great. I have mastered how to silently pour the tiny bags from the front seat of my car into the cup-holder so that I can sneak little morsels to suck on while my kids are screaming for whatever bullshit toy I told them not to bring into the car that they (of course) dropped the second I pulled onto the road. I highly recommend. Starbursts and suckers work for this as well (although harder to hide from the blood sucking sugar cravers). It makes reaching around into the black hole that is my minivan while simultaneously trying to not kill everyone in a fiery car crash that much more enjoyable.
Smarties. It wouldn’t be Halloween if your kid’s buckets weren’t overflowing with these cellophane wrapped chalk wafers. This is the La Croix of candy. The first one or two may be ok, enjoyable even. But after a couple you end up with a sugar burn on your tongue and aren’t even remotely satisfied. You know it, I know it. But our kids, for whatever reason, do not. Save alllll the Smarties. These can be used as bargaining chips in the future to bribe your kids into good behavior when you’re desperately trying to complete a task (like pee in peace) or need them to just get the hell out of your face for a second so you can think.
Your kids are going to get a lot of bullshit candy for Halloween. Circus peanuts, jelly beans, Good N Plenty. All of those are basically compost material. Or a lovely parting gift for the neighbor kid you’re constantly turning away who comes knocking on the door at dinner time every night to see if your kid can “play”.
Some asshole will for SURE hand out those stale popcorn balls that in my house I use as way to showcase my impressive nothin’-but-net shot… right into the garbage can.
If you’re like me, you’ll tell your kids they can’t have any until you’ve carefully investigated it all for dangerous ingredients like razor blades and gluten. Let’s be honest, I’m a lazy (or more accurately, exhausted) parent. If I weren’t sorting through it anyways to find my stash, I’d probably risk it. I’m detail oriented, but only when it comes to stealing from my own children while they’re asleep, what can I say?
Halloween doesn’t have to only be known as the holiday that kick’s off the annual downward spiral of eating like a complete assbag for months on end. Leading you to question what kind of magical elf stowed away in Santa’s trip down your chimney and found it’s way into your unopened drawers to replace all of your spring staples with similar items, just a couple sizes too small.
So, if you’re gonna pilfer candy from your kids, make sure you do it right.
Godspeed, kiddos. Go get your mamas some chocolate.
If you liked this check out some of my other parenting inspired humor pieces:
I hear a lot about my trans son that he’s too young to know about gender. Maybe if he were older, it would make sense. But at this age, he just can’t understand these things.
But isn’t that precisely the reason WHY it seems so obvious that a child would know about this if only they were experiencing it first hand?
I consider myself a pretty progressive person and even I was taken back by my son’s exclamations of being a boy on the inside. It shook me to the core. I was fearful of his future, scared I had no idea what to do in this situation and it gave me just another worry about how I could fuck my kids up unintentionally just because there is no handbook for this parenting thing.
My son was never exposed to anyone that is trans on any level he would be aware of. Gender identity is not something we openly discussed in our home until it became something he was wrestling with.
I think this contributed to my son’s confusion in the beginning because for him, he was feeling very different and couldn’t quite figure out why.
The words he used to explain how he was feeling to me included “mom, did you know in your heart that you’re a girl? Because in my heart…. I feel like a BOY”. And, “mom can God make mistakes? Because I think God made me a girl and he was WRONG.”
He used to ask me questions before expressing he is trans that applied to textbook gender stereotypes. I would be painting my nails and he would come up to me and ask, “hey mom, can boys paint their nails too?” And at the time I never really considered any of these questions could have a deeper meaning.
I always just assumed it was general curiosity about the differences between boys and girls. I would just remind him that boys can do girl things and girls can do boy things. You don’t have to act or be a certain way because you are a girl.
Looking back, these situations speak even more to the fact that his feelings are VERY real. Because if he was hearing me at all, the message was always that you don’t have to be a boy to do BOY things. Yet, he still felt the urge to change himself. To BE someone else.
Research shows that during development children start to become aware of gender around 18 months to 2 years. This means they recognize that boys and girls are different. Physically they look different.
According to this research supported article in The Conversation,
In infancy, children will start to show a preference for gender specific toys. “Trucks are for boys” “Dolls are for girls”.
By the age of three kids will point out gender stereotypes and verbalize them. They can also associate with their own gender.
And by 4 most kids have a sense of and are comfortable with THEIR gender.
So at the age of 5, a child should most definitely be able to comfortably identify as either a boy or a girl (according to research). But what if they don’t?
What if your child is questioning their gender?
If a child is not sure, not comfortable they may express their gender confusion in different ways. Some kids experience gender dysphoria which is flagged by distress. They feel locked in a body that doesn’t belong to them.
This happens markedly during puberty, but can happen anytime, really, kids will show serious upset about their bodies or their expression of gender. To a point where it is causing serious mental or physical anguish (or both).
But some kids aren’t greatly distressed at all. Those kids are just ready to be someone else. And considering the science behind it, why, as parents, should we wait for our kids to get to a dangerous pubescent age where the potential for them to experience gender dysphoria increases significantly?
If we can save our kids from any discomfort, hurt, or harm… isn’t that our ultimate goal as parents?
Consider the changes being made at a young age for a child. Really, it is just words. Making some adjustments to our language to make sure we appropriately refer to our child as their preferred gender and possibly a name change. But other than that, as parents of very young trans kids, that’s about all. And that’s about all for a number of years.
The hope would be, at that point, we would have given ourselves and our children time to live as their true selves, and time to be sure. To let them experience life as the person they feel like on the inside matching the outside and have an opportunity to decide if there is more they would like to do about this, later… years later.
Basically, according to the pros at the Human Rights Campaign, we are allowing my child to be who he needs in this moment and in the meantime, we are looking for signs. Signs this is forever before we make any major decisions regarding his body and mind.
He needs to be consistent, persistent, and insistent. If he waivers, if he questions, if he goes back and forth between the two…. that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s NOT trans, but it could mean he’s non-binary or gender fluid, or… he got it wrong.
My son has shown me nothing but consistency and insistence since he’s expressed his true feelings to me that he be referred to, recognized as, and treated like he was born a boy.
If he faltered, I might have concerns. But even then, I don’t think that allowing him to live the way he wants to live (as a boy rather than the girl he was born as) is DAMAGING. If anything, the message being sent is that he is loved, he is accepted, and he’s allowed to be whoever he feels he truly is on the inside. He doesn’t need permission to be HIMSELF.
So do I think 5 is too young for a child to understand their gender? The short answer is, I don’t know. At this age and with my kids with ALL.THINGS. in general, I can’t say I’m 100% certain of anything. Ever.
But, as someone who is raising a transgender child but never questioned my own gender, I say no. The professionals say, no. If someone asks me how he could possible know and understand any of this at his age, I typically respond with “at what age did you realize that you were a girl (or a boy)?” And most people don’t have an answer for that because the truth is, they have NEVER questioned their gender. It always just was.
In some ways, I think my child is far more aware of himself than I am at the age of 34. And for that, I feel proud to have raised an assertive, self-aware, and confident little dude. Wouldn’t any parent be proud of that?
If this article resonated with you here are a few others of my experiences raising a young trans child that you may want to check out: